To be deaf is commonly understood to mean to be unable to hear, or to affiliate oneself with Deaf culture.
Deaf versus deaf
Main article: Deaf culture
The word deaf is used and understood in two ways. First, there is the medical, pathological and audiological sense of the word, in which deafness describes a disease or impairment. Deaf, often capitalized, may also describe a culture and community whose members may or may not be able to hear but for whom the medical condition of deafness is somehow relevant or present to their lives. This split in perspectives causes what can seem to be odd constructions using the word. For example, a person could be said to be deaf but not Deaf. Conversely, one could be Deaf and yet not be deaf. Therefore, it can be important to discern which sense the word is being used by a speaker or writer.
Causes of deafness
There are four major causes of hearing loss.
- Deafness can be inherited. Both dominant and recessive genes exist which can cause deafness. If a family has a dominant gene for deafness it will persist across generations because it will be expressed in the offspring even if it is inherited from only one parent. If a family had genetic deafness caused by a recessive gene it will not always manifest as it will have to be passed onto offspring from both parents.
- Dominant and recessive deafness can be syndromic or nonsyndromic. Recent gene mapping has identified dozens of nonsyndromic dominant (DFNA#) and recessive (DFNB#) forms of deafness.
- The most common type of congenital deafness in developed countries is DFNB1, also known as Connexin 26 deafness or GJB2-related deafness.
- The most common dominant syndromic forms of deafness include Stickler syndrome and Waardenburg syndrome.
- The most common recessive syndromic forms of deafness are Pendred syndrome, Large vestibular aqueduct syndrome and Usher syndrome.
Disease or illness
- High fevers can damage the inner ear
- Measles often results in auditory nerve damage
- Some antibiotics can cause deafness in higher doses.
- There can be damage either to the ear itself or to the brain centers that process the aural information conveyed by the ears.
- Victims of head injury are especially vulnerable to hearing loss or tinnitus, either temporary or permanent.
- Exposure to very loud noise (90 dB or more, such as jet engines at close range) can cause progressive hearing loss. Exposure to a single event of extremely loud noise (such as explosions) can also cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.
In addition to hearing aids there exist cochlear implants of increasing complexity and effectiveness. These are useful in treating the postlingually or late deafened individuals, as well as in very young prelingually deafened children. Recent studies show that if implanted at a very young age, deaf children can generally acquire effective hearing and speech. The Implantation of very young children is still somewhat controversial, especially among members of the Deaf community.
Indeed, there is controversy in the Deaf community as to whether cochlear implants are a Good Thing at all, given the negative impact which the community would suffer from its depletion.
Adaptations to deafness
Many deaf individuals use certain assistive devices in their daily lives. Deaf individuals can communicate by telephone using Telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD) Some people call the device by its original name of teletypewriter (TTY). This device looks like a typewriter or word processor and transmits typed text over the telephone. Other names in common use are textphone and minicom. In 2004, mobile textphone devices came onto the market for the first time allowing simultaneous two way text communication. In the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands and many other western countries there are telephone relay services so that a deaf person can communicate with a hearing person via a human translator. Wireless and internet text messaging are beginning to take over the role of the TDD. Other assistive devices include those that use flashing lights to signal events such as a ringing telephone, a doorbell, or a fire alarm.
Historical attitudes toward deafness
For much of time, deaf people were thought to be mentally retarded. Isolated deaf people rarely, if ever, learned language, which is fundamental to much of human culture. Aristotle believed that the deaf were incapable of learning or thinking. The kind of prejudice based on speech and hearing that Aristotle expressed has influenced attitudes toward deaf people and the teaching methods for and expectations of deaf students for ages.
Education of the deaf
For most of history deaf people were not thought capable of learning and so were not educated at all. The first free school for the deaf in history was set up in France in 1760. France used the signs that the students used to communicate with one another in order to teach to them. In other places, the emphasis was on lipreading and speaking English. The debate between which of these two approaches is the most efficacious to deaf students has gone on for hundreds of years and continues today.
Oralism versus manualism
There are two opposing perspectives on how to teach language to deaf people:
- Manualism holds that deaf students should be taught primarily in sign language.
- Oralism holds that deaf students should be taught primarily (or exclusively) to speak and lip-read.
The rationale behind the latter method is that deaf people will have to interact with hearing people most of the time, so they must learn to communicate as hearing people do. The rationale behind the former method is that sign language is a natural form of communication while lip-reading and speaking are extremely difficult for those who cannot hear. Those who prefer the sign-language method take the approach that spoken language should be used only as an auxiliary language. In practice, deaf people have been observed to learn and communicate much faster and more fluently when taught in sign language than when taught orally.
In the U.S., the sign-language method was primarily used until 1880, when the second International Congress on the Education and Welfare of the Deaf (composed of 163 hearing individuals and 1 deaf individual) voted to use the oral approach to teach deaf students. Part of the reason for the emphasis on oralism was the melting pot ideology, that everyone should share the same culture and speak the same language. Also, because sign language was not recognized as a true language, it seemed deficient as a method of communication.
One of the major factors in changing public opinion was William Stokoe's findings, published in 1960, that American Sign Language was a true language. This idea was not accepted immediately, but it played a major role in shifting the emphasis of teaching back toward manualism.
A growing movement in deaf education today is called bi-bi, which stands for bilingualism/biculturalism. This method aims to respect and foster Deaf cultural identity, stress and strengthen sign language competence, while simultaneously teaching and encouraging skills that facillitate functioning in the dominant hearing culture, such as English mastery.
There are many different assistive technologies such as hearing aids available to people who are deaf, hearing impaired or hard of hearing. There are also Hearing dogs which are a category of Assistance dogs.
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